Les Miserables – Review

4/5 – Russell Crowe cost Les Miserables one star more

After The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables was the movie I was most excited for in 2012. The countdown  began months out, once the first trailer was released. It was that trailer that really made me excited for the movie. Watching Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, singing I Dreamed a Dream over shots of the movie, my expectations were raised. If the rest of the movie looked and sounded as good as this trailer, this was easily going to be my movie of the year.

As it turns out, I Dreamed a Dream is the best song in the movie. The producers were smart to put that in the trailer. I’m guessing it put many more people in the seats than Russell Crowe’s rendition of Stars.

I liked this film version of Les Miserables a lot. I’ve now seen it twice. The first was on Christmas Day (which made that Santa scene feel a bit awkward). I think Anne Hathaway is a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscars. She was easily the best part of this movie not named Colm Wilkinson. I’ve never heard I Dreamed a Dream the way she sings it. In every previous rendition of it, it’s been a showcase for the singer’s voice, but no one ever sang it with the overwhelming despair that Hathaway infuses in it. When she finally gets to “I always dreamed my life would be so different from this hell I’m living,” you are seeing a woman at the end of her rope. This is Fantine at rock bottom.

Rock. Bottom.

Eddie Redmayne really impressed me as Marius. Going into the movie, he just looked like a guy with a goofy smile and silly hair. But he made Marius work very well. I loved his and Amanda Seyfried’s version of A Heart Full of Love. He’s adorable. When Eddie says “I’m doing everything all wrong”  might be the cutest part of the movie.

I want your hair.

After seeing her in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert, I was excited to find out that Samantha Barks would be reprising the role of Eponine in the movie. She sounded great in the movie and acted well too. She sings On My Own much more subtlety here than she does on stage. It works. Somehow the filmmakers managed to make her not look drop-dead gorgeous, which can’t be an easy feat.

Okay, she still looks great.

I thought both actresses who played Cosette were excellent. Isabelle Allen was wonderful as Young Cosette. Her version of Castle on a Cloud was really good, especially when she went from singing to whispering. I’ve heard people complain about Amanda Seyfried’s singing, but I thought she sounded good and was paired well with Eddie Redmayne.

I’m of two minds on Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thenardier and Madame Thenardier. They were funny, and at the second screening I attended, the audience laughed very loudly during their scenes. On the other hand, at some points, I found their slapstick to be a little too over the top.

The biggest disappointment in the cast is definitely Russell Crowe as Javert. Every time he sings, my reaction is “No.” This was just bad casting. His voice is not strong enough to carry Javert’s part. He definitely cost this movie a star in my rating. How did his versions of Stars and Javert’s Suicide make the soundtrack, but Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne singing Little Fall of Rain was left off?

“And I’m…”
“Shut yo’ mouth! No, really, shut your mouth.”

Without a doubt the best casting decision was to bring in Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, as the Bishop. It was a pleasure hearing him sing in the movie. The only downside is that when he is singing alongside Hugh Jackman, it really is apparent how much stronger a singer he is over Jackman.

Also in the movie is Frances Ruffelle, who originated the role of Eponine in London and on Broadway. She plays Whore #1 in the movie. I didn’t catch her appearance either time I watched the movie. Well, now I have an excuse to see it a third time.

Overall, I really liked this version of Les Miserables. My top 5 performers would be:

5. Amanda Seyfried – Cosette
4. Samantha Barks – Eponine
3. Eddie Redmayne – Marius
2. Anne Hathaway – Fantine
1. Colm Wilkinson – The Bishop

Hugh Jackman almost cracked the list at the number five spot. I enjoyed his performance a lot in the movie and thought he was a great Jean Valjean, but his singing voice just seemed to whither during some parts. He wasn’t able to adequately anchor my favorite song in the musical, One Day More, but maybe I’m just used to hearing a booming Colm Wilkinson or Alfie Boe performing that song.

According to IMDB, Hugh Jackman went without water for 36 hours to achieve his gaunt look as a prisoner.

I liked that later on in the movie Jean Valjean still had the silver candlesticks that the Bishop gave him. You see them with lit candles in them at Valjean and Cosette’s home, and he packs them in a bag when they’re fleeing. Since the Bishop giving him the candlesticks and not turning him into the authorities were what enabled Valjean his freedom, I thought it was very cool that he still had them, as a reminder of that pivotal night.

Aaron Tveit looks a lot like TJ Miller as Enroljas. I  kept expecting him to yell out, “Paris, yeah!”


Near the end of the movie, there were three small, but significant changes from the stage version that I caught.

When Valjean is nearing the end of his life, he no longer is greeted by both the ghosts of Fantine and Eponine. Here, he is just greeted by Fantine. This makes complete sense, as Valjean never met Eponine when she was alive.

When Jean Valjean gives his note of last confession to Cosette, he says “it is the story of one who turned from hating a man who only learned to love when you were in his keeping.” But in the stage version, the confession is “the story of those who always loved you. Your mother gave her life for you then gave you to my keeping.” I’m not sure which line I like better. The new line makes sense, especially with the addition of the new song, Suddenly, earlier in the movie. But it did throw me off as I was mouthing along to the lyrics.

It wasn’t until the second time I saw the movie that I noticed that in the final scene, with all the dead singing the Epilogue, a song advocating moving towards the future in peace and trading swords for plowshares, that all the French soldiers who died in the battle at the barricade were left as dead bodies at the foot of the barricade. They were just doing their jobs.Why couldn’t these guys get a spot of the barricade of ghosts? I don’t think Javert was singing on the barricade either at the end. I remember him being there in the stage version, but I could be wrong. Russell Crowe would probably have sounded best here, with a horde of singers drowning him out.

Overall, I really enjoyed Les Miserables and recommend seeing it. But, if you’re going to buy the movie soundtrack afterwards, do your ears a favor and skip the movie soundtrack for the Original London Cast Recording. I own both. The movie soundtrack is pretty good, but nothing beats the Original London Cast.